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Obama's Student Loan Plan: What's in it for you?

June 10, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

The financial aid process can be a daunting one but if you're planning on attending college any time soon, you should know that there are tons of federal student aid options available. From Pell Grants to Perkins Loans to FAFSA, the funding is out there but your eligibility to receive aid depends on your level of need and, subsequently, how much aid you are eligible to receive. Translation: For the majority of students, loans are inevitable. But don't fret just yet because President Obama announced an executive order capping loan payments: In an attempt to ease heavy college debt, millions of student loan borrowers will soon be able to cap their payments at 10 percent of their monthly income.

According to the administration, this action will help up to 5 million more borrowers but will not be implemented until December 2015 at the earliest. And while some students taking out loans can already cap their loan payments at 10 percent of their incomes, the president's order will extend this ability to students who took out loans before October 2007. (It’s important to note, however, that President Obama's executive order would cover only those loans from the federal government, not private financial institutions.) "The past couple of years, we've done future students, we've done current students, and now we're trying to take a step back," Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters Monday. Duncan went on to explain that the expansion of the payment caps would be "fantastic for the economy" by allowing young people to spend or invest that money elsewhere. (For more on this story, click here.)

What do you think of the president's attempt to ease the financial burden associated with student loans? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section. And for more information on federal funding, visit our Financial Aid section.

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STEM Graduates More Likely to be Employed...Just Not in STEM Fields

July 14, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

If you're a recent college graduate, chances are you're having a difficult time finding a full-time position in your field of study. It's nothing to be embarrassed about – times are tough and opportunities are slim – but you're not alone: According to new census data, though college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics are more likely than other college graduates to have a job, most don’t work in STEM fields.

On Thursday, the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey released data that showed nearly 75 percent of all holders of bachelor’s degrees in STEM disciplines don't have jobs in STEM occupations. Liana Christin Landivar, a sociologist with the Census Bureau, noted that the Census Bureau does not classify doctors as STEM professionals, which would also affect the overall percentages; she also said there are multiple reasons why students don't get STEM jobs. On a positive note, STEM degrees provide a wide range of career options, as students aren't shoehorned into one particular position. Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, said STEM degrees are becoming “universal degrees” and that the report is not an indication of an oversupply of STEM graduates. (For more on this survey, click here.)

Given the collective push across campuses nationwide to increase participation and graduation rates in STEM disciplines, have you been swayed into pursuing a STEM field? Would you accept an offer for a position that wasn't in your field of study? Share your thoughts in the comments section. And for tips on finding employment after college, building a resume and preparing for your first job out of college, check out Scholarships.com’s After College section.

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Understanding Obama’s New Student Loan Plan

August 15, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

With the final month of summer rapidly slipping away, now is the time to buckle down and finalize how you're going to fund your college education. Whether that entails a full-ride scholarship (way to go!), an impressive financial aid package or even necessary loans, it's important to understand your options. Some of you might even be considering President Obama's Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan...if you can figure out what it involves or if it's even an option. If you're confused about this plan, you're in luck: U.S. News and World Report has broken down the big questions you need answered below:

  • Will these updates help me? If you have federal student loans, maybe. Starting in 2015, borrowers who took out loans before October 2007 or stopped borrowing by October 2011 will be eligible to take advantage of the Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan. Government officials estimate this includes an additional five million people.
  • How much could I save? Now, most federal loan borrowers are eligible for income-based repayment – a different repayment plan that has the same premise as Pay As You Earn. Unlike Pay As You Earn, however, IBR caps payments at 15 percent of one's disposable income and forgives the balance after 25 years of payments. Those differences could mean a lot, both in monthly payment amount and in the total amount paid over time.
  • Didn't the president mention loan refinancing too? He did, but in relation to a bill that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced last month called the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act. This legislation would allow federal and private student loan borrowers with older, higher interest loans to consolidate them within the direct loan program at today's lower fixed interest rates. That bill still has to pass both the Senate and the House, something that may not happen because Republicans are opposed to paying for the bill with a gradual increase in tax rates for those in the higher income brackets.
  • What else should I know? There is still a long way to go before the president's executive action takes effect: December 2015 is the target implementation date. The overall plan includes quite a few other ideas that will make a difference to student loan borrowers, like improving financial incentives for federal student loan servicers to help borrowers stay out of default, making it easier for active-duty military to receive benefits and increasing communication partnerships with entities such as the IRS and tax companies to ensure consumers are aware of their higher education rights and benefits.

What do you think of the president's attempt to ease the financial burden associated with student loans? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section. And for more information on federal funding, visit our Financial Aid section.

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Tips on How to Vet a For-Profit Online Program

May 30, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

Not every student goes the four-year route when it comes to getting a college education and instead explores non-traditional options that include for-profit institutions. And while proprietary institutions may not have the best track record, not all for-profit schools are alike. To help you differentiate between the good and the bad, experts at U.S. News & World Report have compiled a few tips on how to vet an online program. Check out their suggestions below:

  • Investigate the true cost of the program. Draft a budget reflecting the actual cost of the program, including the price per credit hour and the cost of books, support, technology and other necessities. Next, explore scholarship options. Scholarships are a great way to cover part or sometimes even all of the cost of a college education. Creating a Scholarships.com profile is a great place to start!
  • Explore your options. Before committing to a for-profit online program, be sure to do your homework. When looking at different schools, be sure to compare career services departments and their ties to the industry in which you hope to eventually work.
  • Check for accreditation. To help ensure that the for-profit school you are considering is reputable, check to see whether it is regionally accredited. If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of the accreditation agency, make sure it is recognized by one of two authorities on the matter – the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the Department of Education.

Do you attend a for-profit institution? If so, how did you decide on your school?

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Attention High School Seniors: Free College in Tulsa, Oklahoma!

June 13, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

Understanding the true cost of college is essential when finalizing the decision on where you’ll pursue your post-secondary education. Remember that amid all the literature schools send out, take more than a gander at the teeny-tiny font listing “sticker price” because that number probably doesn’t include room and board, books and myriad other fees you’ll be have to pony up while attending. And while the majority of students won’t pay anywhere near the sticker price, the average cost of college has steadily increased to $20,000 at public colleges and topped $50,000 at private colleges, which has left many families wondering how they’ll afford these astronomical amounts. Unless, of course, you’re a resident of Tulsa, Oklahoma: Eligible students there get the first two years of college for FREE!

Tulsa Achieves is a gap-funding program that provides up to 100-percent tuition and fees to Tulsa County high school graduating seniors who enroll at Tulsa Community College the fall after they graduate. Who’s eligible? Every high school graduate living in Tulsa County, including public, private or home-schooled students with a 2.0 or higher grade point average. The program pays for up to 63 college credit hours or up to three years of college, whichever comes first; students are also required to complete 40 hours of volunteer service each academic year. The total cost is $3,400 per student per year and is mostly paid for with local property taxes. "We established Tulsa Achieves seven years ago because we no longer believed that a high school diploma was sufficient in terms of the jobs of the future," said Tom McKeon, Tulsa Community College’s president. "I think we're seeing kids that never, ever dreamed that college was a possibility for them because parents didn't think it was within their realm," he added. (For more on this story, click here.)

Let us know your thoughts on Tulsa Achieves program in the comments section. And if your state doesn't offer a deal as sweet, head over to Scholarships.com to find financial aid that’s tailored to you – create a profile and conduct a free scholarship search today!

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2014's Most Memorable Commencement Speakers Are...

June 3, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

Ah, college graduation. It’s a time filled with incredible hope, fear and potentially a famous commencement speaker. And while notable politicians, celebrities and artists are usually called upon to speak to a crowd full of fresh-faced 20-somethings embarking on the next chapter of adulthood, we couldn't help but wonder who shared some of the most memorable speeches this year. Check out some notable moments below:

Jim Carrey, Maharishi School of Management: "You can fail at something you don't want, so you might as well take a chance doing what you love."

Grace Potter, St. Lawrence University: "Honestly, more than anything else, it is love that got me here today… I see now that it's these experiences, large and small and people who give their time in our early lives that truly shape our path. I hope you can all feel my gratitude and share in this experience."

John Legend, University of Pennsylvania: "We’re taught when we’re young that the opposite of love is hate, but it’s not. Hate is a byproduct, hate is a result. Being a hater isn’t cool -- nobody wants that. But hate comes from one thing: fear. Fear is the opposite of love.”

Colin Powell, High Point University: "Go forth and raise strong families remembering that all you can ever leave behind is your reputation, your good works and your children for the next generation."

Rainn Wilson, University of Southern California: "In this me-me-me culture, focus on yourself [and you will] find only misery, depression, emptiness. Focus on helping others [and you will find] joy, contentment, gratitude and buckets and buckets of eudaimonia."

Charlie Day, Merrimack College: "You cannot let a fear of failure or a fear of comparison or a fear of judgment stop you from doing what's going to make you great. You cannot succeed without this risk of failure. You cannot have a voice without this risk of criticism. And you cannot love without the risk of loss."

For the full list of memorable commencement speeches, head over to the Huffington Post. And if you’re feeling anxious or nervous about going out into the world and finding that first job, or simply sticking to a traditional 9-5 schedule, check out some of our resources on what you should expect come life after college. We have everything from sticking to a real world budget to coping with the stress that may come with leaving college. So don’t fret, we’ve got your back!

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Michelle Obama Tells Students “My College Story Can Be Yours”

June 17, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

First Lady Michele Obama has always been a champion of higher education. Whether she's petitioning for more low-income students to attend college or drawing parallels on her own college experience in order to encourage students, promoting a college education has always been among her top priorities. In fact, she recently expanded on her personal college story with a piece in Education Week, where she promoted her latest Reach Higher campaign.

The Reach Higher Initiative is an effort to inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school, whether in a professional training program, community college or four-year college or university. "My message to these young people is that while all of us adults – teachers, administrators and policymakers – have to do a better job of giving them the best schools and opportunities for their future, at the end of the day, they also need to step up and take responsibility for their education themselves," said the first lady on the need for young people to take the future of their education into their own hands. “That means going to class every day, setting their goals high and working like crazy to achieve them. That's been the story of my life and my husband's life, so when I talk to these young people, my hope is that they see that our story can be their story, too – as long as they're willing to dedicate themselves to their education,” she added. To read her full commentary on the importance of completing a college education, head over to edweek.org.

Do you find encouragement in sharing similar struggles with someone so successful? Share your thoughts on Michele Obama's Reach Higher Initiative in the comments section. And for more info on adjusting to college life, check out Scholarships.com: We've come up with some resources to ease you into that transition with information on everything from choosing the right school to deciding whether or not a state university is right for you. Browse through our College Prep section for more info!

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Starbucks Offers Employees Free College Tuition

June 16, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

Have you heard the one about the English major that was so unemployable that their only viable option was becoming a barista at the local Starbucks? Well, the joke's on you because starting this fall, Starbucks employees will be eligible for a free college education: According to reports, Starbucks is rolling out a program that would allow its workers to earn online college degrees at Arizona State University at a steeply discounted rate. Thanks a latte!

The new initiative will offer Starbucks' 135,000 U.S. employees who work at least 20 hours a week the option to graduate debt free from ASU with no requirement to repay tuition costs or stay with the company. Under this freshly-brewed program, employees will receive full tuition reimbursement if they enroll in ASU's online program as juniors or seniors; they can also pick from a wide range of educational programs that aren't related to their Starbucks work. And while it’s unclear how many employees with choose to participate in the new program or how much it will cost Starbucks Corp., the company isn't disclosing the financial terms of its agreement with ASU. In a news release, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz talked about “the fracturing of the American Dream”, saying: “There's no doubt, the inequality within the country has created a situation where many Americans are being left behind. The question for all of us is, should we accept that, or should we try and do something about it?" (For more on this story, click here.)

Do you think this partnership between Starbucks and ASU is a step in the right direction? Would you consider working for Starbucks given the promising initiative? Share your thoughts in the comment section and for more info on how to fund your college education, head over to Scholarships.com.

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Most Expensive Public Schools for Out-of-State Students

July 3, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

For the budget-conscious high school senior, it seems like a no-brainer to apply to the local state school for the best shot at affordable tuition. But with the economy in a slump and funding cuts becoming the norm, public universities across the country are more interested in recruiting out-of-state students. Why? It’s pretty simple: On average, tuition and fees for students crossing state lines is more than double that of their in-state peers. So if you have your sights set on schools beyond your state’s boundaries, check out the 10 most expensive public schools for out-of-state students (figures do not including room and board, books and other miscellaneous costs):

Did your prospective college make the list and does this information alter your interest in the school? Is it fair for colleges facing financial woes to place the burden on the shoulders of incoming out-of-state students? Share your thoughts in the comment section and for more info on how to fund your college education, head over to Scholarships.com.

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College Tuition Increases Slow, Government Aid Falls

October 25, 2013

College Tuition Increases Slow, Government Aid Falls

by Suada Kolovic

High school seniors heading to college in the fall, listen up: The average cost at the nation’s four-year public universities rose 2.9% this year, the smallest annual increase in more than three decades (yay!) but the slowdown in tuition increases have been offset by reductions in federal grant aid (boo!).

According to a new report from the College Board, public colleges have raised tuition prices so sharply in recent years not to gouge students but to bank on the increased state aid. And although the increase is moderate, "this does not mean that college is suddenly more affordable," says economist Sandy Baum, co-author of Trends in Higher Education reports on tuition and financial aid. "It does seem that the [upward tuition] spiral is moderating. Not turning around, not ending, but moderating." Unfortunately, students continue to suffer from the constant cycle of rising costs and serious college debt. Shrinking state aid for public colleges and universities has translated into the cost of public schools to jump $1,770 in inflation-adjusted dollars. The amount of government aid received last year fell $6,646 for every full-time student at those institutions while just five years ago, each student received $9,111 in today’s dollars. (For more on this report, click here.)

If college is in your forecast, what do you make of the report’s findings? Let us know in the comments section.

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